In recent years, Egypt has become synonymous with brute violence and a disregard for basic human rights. This disturbing trend has only intensified under the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
The case of Emad Assaad, a prominent Egyptian activist, serves as a grim reminder of the state of affairs in the country.
Assaad’s ordeal began when he dared to speak out against the government by posting critical comments on Facebook. In a brazen display of power, security agents raided his home and forced him to delete the posts. This incident showcases the extent to which truth-telling has been criminalised in Sisi’s Egypt, where dissent is not tolerated.
While it may be some relief that Assaad was eventually released after a strong solidarity campaign, it is a grim reality that he was arrested in the first place. It is clear that those who seek to exercise their basic rights in Egypt should expect to be punished, no matter how peaceful their actions may be.
The timing of Assaad’s arrest is also meaningful. It coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Rab’a mass killings, a horrific massacre that changed Egypt forever. On August 14, 2013, security forces violently dispersed a sit-in protesting the military’s removal of Egypt’s first elected leader, Mohamed Morsy. The attack, meticulously planned at the highest levels, resulted in the deaths of over 800 innocent people.
One would expect that such a bloodstained event would lead to justice and accountability. However, in Egypt, the opposite has occurred. Those responsible for the massacre have not only gone unpunished but have also been promoted and rewarded. On the other hand, the survivors of the massacre have been imprisoned or forced into exile. This blatant lack of justice is a damning indictment of the Egyptian government.
Assaad’s case highlights the systemic issues plaguing Egypt. The government consistently fails to rein in the security forces and hold them accountable for their actions. Instead, abuse and violence are given the green light in the name of “security.” This disturbing trend has had a profound impact on the Egyptian people, who are left defenceless against the very forces that should protect them.
The normalisation of this brute violence in Egypt has far-reaching consequences. It not only stifles free speech and dissent but perpetuates a culture of fear and oppression. The government’s failure to act within the bounds of the law erodes trust in institutions and undermines the very foundations of a democratic society.
This doctrine has been reiterated in various official statements, including by al-Sisi himself. In response to a comment made in June regarding unjustly detained individuals, al-Sisi expressed his frustration by stating that these arrests were carried out with the intention of “rescuing the homeland.” Military commanders, as well as senior security and government officials, have utilised the notion of “protecting” the “homeland” to justify acts of violence committed in broad daylight.
Distorting boundaries often leads to a situation where the principles of the rule of law, dignity, human rights, and basic morals are swiftly disregarded. In the years following the Rab’a killings, security forces have been involved in widespread and systematic abductions, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings, all under the pretext of safeguarding the nation’s “security.”
Initially, the government under al-Sisi targeted supporters of Morsy’s Islamist movement. However, over the course of a decade, security forces have not spared any perceived or actual critic in Egypt, even among those who had previously supported the military coup. This continuum of events explains the current state of affairs in Egypt.
In recent months, al-Sisi’s government has embarked on an intensive public relations campaign to improve its tarnished reputation. They argue that a national dialogue, convened by al-Sisi himself, and the release of some political prisoners signify a new beginning. However, in reality, the dialogue has largely devolved into a mere exchange of words with minimal impact on repressive policies. Thousands of individuals remain imprisoned, and arbitrary arrests and abuses persist without restraint.
The abduction of Assaad serves as a reminder that without addressing the rampant abuses committed by security forces and the prevailing lawlessness, including the events that transpired in Rab’a ten years ago, there can be no hope for a positive outcome.